Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Strategic Sharing for People in and from Foster Care

In preparation for several upcoming statewide workshops for young people preparing to age out of foster care, I created the above diagram to convey the different levels of relationships.

One of the challenges for young people in/from foster care is developing personal boundaries.

- How much can I share? - Who should I share it with? - Will they be too overwhelmed? - Who can I tell?

People in the inner circle have often earned the trust necessary for deeper vulnerability.

Revealing deeply personal information to strangers or acquaintances is a risky venture.

For current/former foster children, the journey toward wholeness often involves bouncing between one extreme or another.

- Over-share vs. under-share. - Total independence vs. victim mentality. - Too vulnerable vs. invulnerable.

These extremes are understandable, but in the long-run, they can prove to be unhealthy, and even dangerous.

In a private venue, with people in the inner circle, you can be vulnerable and figure out the meaning and significance that your experience has for you...

In a public venue, with people in the outer rings of the circle, you might need to explain why you are sharing your experience and connect it with your purpose for sharing.

Why might you share your experiences privately?
- To make sense and meaning out of our lives
- To open ourselves up to personal growth

Why might you share your experiences publicly?
- To put a human face on social issues and inspire others to action

My friend Misty created an excellent resource on strategic sharing. She wrote, "At its best, sharing personal stories can educate, inspire and make a real difference. At its worst, it can feel manipulative, exploitive or lead to harmful consequences."

What are the risks of public / private sharing?
- People might discredit you or write you off; assuming that you "have issues"
- People might assume you are playing the victim and want something from them
- People might try to take advantage of you (if I had a dollar for every guy who offered

Self-disclosure is a lot like clothing
Do you really want to bare yourself naked in front of strangers? If the level of disclosure is imbalanced, regardless of how effective your presentation might be, you might leave that venue feeling exploited. Bringing up certain memories can be painful.

Questions to ask yourself ahead of time:

1.) Strategic Sharing: What is my purpose for sharing? What do I want people to learn from my story? Some details make a story compelling and memorable. Others might come back to haunt you later on.

2.) Measured Disclosure: Which details am I willing to share? What do I choose to keep private? Would I mind if my words were recorded in print, or retold by another person?

3.) Generalize the Issue: If the subject gets too personal, or questions from the audience seem overly prying and make you feel uncomfortable, respond with statistics about the BIG picture.

4.) Connecting with Others: How will the audience be able to relate to your story? Consider inviting the audience to share personal information of their own.

As Danielle pointed out in the previous "comments" section, entering the adult world is challenging for many people, not just alumni of foster care.

When in doubt, share your story with people you trust (people from the inner circle) before "going public." Ask a trusted mentor if they think you are establishing personal boundaries in order to protect yourself.

Stenslie, Misty and Cynthia Scheiderer. Strategic Sharing: Drawing on Personal Experience to Educate and Influence, May 2006.

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Lisa, this is great information. I don't comment much, but your site is so helpful to me. When I went to meet my new son a few weeks ago, I noticed his tendency to over-share. Telling a stranger personal details was no different to him than telling me things because, after all, I'm essentially a stranger too. He and I had a talk about "too much information" and how strangers sometimes don't know how to handle it. It's going to be a long process helping him learn reasonable boundaries.

Thanks for your comment... and thanks for caring about your son, and helping him develop healthy boundaries.

I'm always just an email away, if you ever want to chat about this issue further,

Hey girl your dong great!!!!! been a while but I am still checkin on ya..... Your doign a gret job I think.
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